UPDATE 2-Chicago braces for storm that buried U.S. Plains

Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:56pm EST

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(Adds details from Kansas City, Chicago and Detroit; changes dateline, previous Kansas City, Mo.)

CHICAGO Feb 26 (Reuters) - A potent winter storm that buried much of the U.S. Plains and left at least three people dead moved into Chicago on Tuesday, forcing hundreds of flight cancellations and raising the specter of a nightmarish evening commute.

The National Weather Service's Chicago office issued a winter weather advisory from noon through 9 p.m. Central time.

Forecasters predicted the storm, which packs a dangerous mix of wet snow, sleet, rain and high winds, would reach peak intensity around the evening rush hour, reducing visibility and creating treacherous driving conditions.

The Illinois Tollway agency, which maintains nearly 300 miles of highway around Chicago, said it was mobilizing its fleet of more than 180 snowplows in anticipation of the storm, which was expected to dump as much as 6 inches of wet snow north of the city.

At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, sleet and low clouds on the front end of the storm were causing delays of nearly two-and-a-half hours, according to Flightaware.com, and nearly 300 arrivals and departures were canceled at O'Hare and Chicago's Midway Airport.

In Oklahoma, Texas and parts of Kansas, where some residents were still digging out from a winter storm last week, the storm dumped up to 17 inches (43 cm) of snow on Amarillo, Texas, and whipped Kansas City, Missouri, with winds of up to 30 miles (48 km) per hour.

Highways in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of Kansas remained closed because of heavy and drifting snow.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service said the storm would dump 3 to 5 inches of wet snow on Detroit overnight and into Wednesday morning.

The storm has contributed to at least three deaths, two in Kansas and one in Oklahoma.

A woman died and three passengers were injured Monday night on Interstate 70 when their pickup truck rolled off the icy roadway in Ellis County, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said. Earlier Monday, a man was killed when his car veered off the interstate in Sherman County near the Colorado border, he said.

"We urge everyone to avoid travel and be extremely cautious if you must be on the roads," said Ernest Garcia, superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

In northern Oklahoma, one person died when the roof of a home partially collapsed in the city of Woodward, said Matt Lehenbauer, the city's emergency management director.

"We have roofs collapsing all over town," said Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill Jr. "We really have a mess on our hands."

Kansas City was also hard hit by the storm, which dumped as much as 13 inches of snow on some parts of the metro region on Tuesday, said Chris Bowman, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Bowman said another 1 to 3 inches could fall Tuesday evening and nearly two-thirds of the flights at Kansas City International Airport Tuesday afternoon were canceled.

The storm cut power to some 80,000 households in the Kansas City metropolitan area and to more than 12,000 rural customers, officials said. About half the Kansas City customers had power restored by noon Tuesday, said a spokeswoman for Kansas City Power & Light.

Heavy wet snow weighed down power lines and tree branches, making them vulnerable to collapse, especially with winds of 10 to 20 mph, said Sharon Watson, spokesperson for emergency management in Kansas.

Watson said this week's storm has in ways had a greater impact than last week's.

"It has covered far less of an area but it has been more deadly and there is the big concern about power outages," Watson said.

Governors in Texas and Oklahoma had declared states of emergency in the areas struck by the snowstorm to speed assistance to those in need. Interstate and other highways were closed across the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Areas around Amarillo and Lubbock received more than a foot (30 cm) of snow during the storm, which had cut visibility to near zero on some roads, Texas transportation officials said.

In addition to the winter storm, National Weather Service forecasters on Tuesday issued tornado watches across central Florida and up the eastern coast to South Carolina. (Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Missouri, David Bailey in Minneapolis and James B. Kelleher in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Barbara Goldberg, Nick Zieminski and Dan Grebler)

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